Teaching Students to Hook the Reader
Teach students to capture the readers’ attention with these simple strategies.
Do I Have Your Attention
I think Frank McCourt’s a whiner.
Did that lead get your attention? If I were an accomplished writer like Frank McCourt, I would go into the body of my article right now, but I’m not, so I’ll, instead, weaken the lead with unnecessary verbiage, something McCourt’s and my students have mastered.
In his book Teacher Man, he pokes fun at the notion that English teachers read literary classics. They, in fact, read Jose’s and Susan’s and Mary’s and Antonio’s horrible essays.
I got tired of reading crappy essays, so I made a rule in my class: if the lead didn’t grab my attention, I wrote a ‘D’ on the paper and stopped reading. After assigning 38 ‘D’s I figured I should actually teach students how to hook the reader with dynamite leads. Teaching students how to write leads will make your life more enjoyable. Here’s the very lesson I taught, beginning with my lone objective.
Common Core Standards
Teaching about essay introductions and grabbing the reader’s attention satisfies the following common core standards.
W.9-10.2a Introduce a topic; organize complex ideas, concepts, and information to make important connections and distinctions; include formatting (e.g., headings); graphics (e.g., figures, tables); and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
W.9-10.2b Develop the topic with well-chosen, relevant, and sufficient facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience’s knowledge of the topic.
W.9-10.3a Engage and orient the reader by setting out a problem, situation, or observation, establishing one or multiple point(s) of view, and introducing a narrator and/or characters; create a smooth progression of experiences or events.
W.9-10.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
Teaching students how to write leads involves the following procedures:
- Explain that a good lead hooks the reader and heightens the reader’s curiosity by arousing interest. The best leads drop the reader into the middle of the action.
- Provide examples of great leads from great writers. Use different genres: novels, newspaper articles, essays, short stories, this really funny article I wrote about golf, or writing samples from the class. Never under any circumstances use Thomas Hardy as an example.
- List various methods.
- Appeal to Authority
- Fact or Statistic
- Brief Summary
- Ask a question
- Present a problem
- Avoid using rhetorical questions, trite phrases, or slang.
4. Analyze aforementioned writing samples and discuss effective techniques used.
- Instruct students to pick a topic and use at least five different types of leads as a hook.
- If you are revising a rough draft, evaluate the attention grabber in the introduction and rewrite it.
- In groups of 3-4, have students share each of their attention grabbers and let the group determine which is best.
- Have students read their attention grabber to the class. Have the class respond to its effectiveness in hooking the reader.
- Write the attention grabber on a board and have students evaluate them.
- For a grade, collect the attention grabbers created by the student and assess them based in completion, technique, and interest.
- Make the assessment part of a challenge or contest.